The Mandalorian's Hero's Journey
A deep reading of episode eight, "Redemption."
“Redemption,” the final episode of the season does not tie in significantly to Rise of Skywalker, but it carries on plot threads last seen in Clone Wars and Rebels, while going full hero’s journey.
To begin, the Moff names all the heroes, establishing their full identities and backstories at last:
I am sure that Republican Shock Trooper Carasynthia Dune of Alderaan will advise you that she has witnessed many of her ranks vaporize mid-descent facing the predecessor of this particular model. Or perhaps the decommissioned Mandalorian hunter, Din Djarin, has heard the songs of the Siege of Mandalore, when gunships outfitted with similar ordnance laid waste to fields of Mandalorian recruits in The Night of a Thousand Tears. I advise disgraced Magistrate Greef Karga to search the wisdom of his years and urge you to lay down your arms and come outside.
As he labels Mando with his childhood name, Mando realizes this is his great nemesis, the man who ordered the destruction of his people. Further, the Moff establishes that he has no code of honor like Mando’s and will eagerly betray him. He killed his own officer for interrupting him. While not the Emperor, this character is clearly brutal enough in his own way.
An unlikely rescue comes from IG-11. Claiming that his new mission is to “nurse and protect,” he arrives carrying the child and blasting Stormtroopers in all directions, living up to his mission to save Mando and Cara as well as the baby. Mando fights beside him, but is badly injured. He lies at the point of death, insisting that Cara not remove his helmet: “I can hold them back long enough for you to escape. Let me have a warrior's death.” As he concludes, “This is the Way.” Facing death, or nearly dying and returning, is a crucial part of the hero’s journey. It’s the ultimate human trial—the deepest battle. Further, crossing into the otherworld and returning allows one new perspectives and the rise of wisdom. For Mando, this is a new acceptance of droids. To his revulsion, IG-11 is the one who stays back to aid him. Even as Mando insists “IGs are all hunters” and refuses to remove his helmet, adding, “No living thing has seen me without my helmet since I swore the Creed,” IG-11 is undaunted by a pointed blaster. Brave yet compassionate in his own way, IG-11 insists, “I am not a living thing.” Mando removes his helmet at last for the audience, much more vulnerable in his injuries and defenselessness than Kylo Ren, who plays at needing such a mask. IG-11 sprays Mando with bacta and even makes a clumsy joke, saving him and proving that droids can be benevolent. With this, Mando indeed rises from death wiser than before.
The twisting underground tunnels represent a quest through the subconscious—a place where fears and hopes are made manifest.
Harry Potter journeys under Hogwarts at the climaxes of the first three books, then into the graveyard, the Ministry’s cellar, the Horcrux cave, and the Forbidden Forest. In Deathly Hallows, [there are] seven descents, from the “London underground” to Dobby’s grave, to the vault under Gringotts. Why such a pattern of battling evil underground? The underworld offers death and darkness but with it the wisdom of mortality
Immediately, Mando faces another death—that of most of his tribe. He encounters a pile of empty armor, with some of the masks horrifically small. Apparently after his people supported him in episode three, the Empire slaughtered them, giving him yet another reason to hate the Imperials and their Moff.
Mando’s mentor, the Armorer, awaits him there. In the mentor’s tradition, she sets him on a mission and offers him magical gifts. “It is a foundling. By Creed, it is in your care.” As she adds, Mando must take the Child back to its people (about which very little has been revealed, even in Star Wars encylopedias).
When Mando asks, incredulously, “You expect me to search the galaxy for the home of this creature and deliver it to a race of enemy sorcerers?” the Armorer replies, “This is the Way.” As she adds, he must leave and protect the child: “A foundling is in your care. By Creed, until it is of age or reunited with its own kind, you are as its father.” Through this quest, he can find the episode title's promise of "Redemption." She gives him a sigil in the shape of a skeletal mudhorn, calling back to episodes two and three while establishing that he and the Child are a family, having vanquished a monster together. As she concludes, “I have one more gift for your journey. Have you trained in the Rising Phoenix?” She also gives him a jetpack, adding “This will make you complete.” Symbolically, he is a full Mandalorian at last, having accumulated all the pieces that make him whole.
Mando sets off with his friends who represent different skills, another hero’s journey component as they speak with the tiny voices within himself. "One’s companions on the quest are meant to fill in what is missing in one’s personality." Next, he reconciles his oldest fear even as he sets aside his prejudice. IG-11 offers to sacrifice himself, insisting, “They will not be satisfied with anything less than the child. This is unacceptable. I will eliminate the enemy and you will escape.” By showing the same devotion to the Child that Mando has, IG-11 establishes himself as a reflection of Mando, more alike than not. Though Mando decisively shot the droid in the first episode, now he pleads for it to live. He even uses similar language to that the Armor just used with him: “Wait. You can't self-destruct. Your base command is to watch the child. That supersedes your manufacturer's protocol, right?”
One’s shadow is all the qualities he or she has rejected: Harry is “a true Gryffindor,” courageous above all, while Voldemort is the heir of conniving Salazar Slytherin. At the same time, Voldemort notices their connection: “Both half-bloods, orphans, raised by Muggles. Probably the only two Parselmouths to come to Hogwarts since the great Slytherin himself. We even look something alike…But after all, it was merely a lucky chance that saved you from me” (Chamber of Secrets 233). Though teenage Voldemort refers to Harry’s escaping death, his statement is truer than he knows: Harry, an abused orphan from the Muggle world, could so easily have become Voldemort. The only thing stopping this, as Dumbledore points out, is Harry’s choice.
Here, like Luke with Anakin in Return of the Jedi, Mando has learned to love the shadow, everything he’s banished in himself. However, like Anakin, this otherself is doomed. Even as Mando protests, IG-11 tells him, “There is nothing to be sad about. I have never been alive.” As it adds, it can discern his sadness in a way no one else can. “I'm a nurse droid. I've analyzed your voice.” The shadow senses and evokes all our weaknesses, reflecting the part we’ve hidden or cast aside. For tough Mando, it’s his vulnerability and love, here found by the droid. It gives up its life and Mando learns a great lesson about kindness.
Finally, the epic boss fight arrives. Mando takes up the weapon of his people, the jetpack, and battles a true dragon – a TIE fighter, flown by the man who killed all his people. Though it taxes him, he finally wins the day.
As they make their escape, Greef Karga offers the temptation of the hero, an offer to take the easy path instead of the honorable one: “But you, my friend, you will be welcome back into the Guild with open arms. So, go off, enjoy yourself. And when you're ready to return, you will have the pick of all quarries.”
Mando turns him down and sets off with the Child on the quest the Armorer gave him. Having embraced this new compassionate side, he lets the Child play with his talisman. Many scenes through the episode link his youthful self with the Child—both Foundlings, both gathered up and flown by masked Mandalorians. At last, he has become a complete adult warrior. Now he must pass on his lessons to the next generation.
A final scene establishes what Mando’s next journey will require. Moff Gideon climbs from the downed TIE, after slicing his way out with the Darksaber, featured in the Star Wars cartoons. This is the legendary weapon of the Mandalorian leader, to be taken from him in combat. Swords, from Excalibur to Anakin’s lightsaber, are the most classic weapon for the questing hero.
The magical sword is a masculine hero symbol, divinely endowed as a sacred trust. “Often the breaking or loss of the sword signaled the loss of royal authority or of heroic mana, and the hero’s consequent death” (Walker 31). Thus, the sword represents the trust of the community in their king, that he will protect and defend them.
To complete his quest, Mando will need to duel Gideon and take the sword from him, establishing himself as Mandalore’s new leader. Of course, this will be a journey for another season…
Valerie Estelle Frankel is the author of A Rey of Hope: Feminism, Symbolism and Hidden Gems in Star Wars: The Force Awakens; We’re Home: Fandom, Fun, and Hidden Homages in Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Star Wars Meets the Eras of Feminism: Weighing All the Galaxy’s Women Great and Small and many other books on pop culture. https://www.amazon.com/Valerie-Estelle-Frankel/e/B004KMCLQK